Wednesday, February 08, 2006

XP Powertoys

For those of us without access to the Windows Vista (next version of Windows) betas, there are several ways to get some cool extra features for Windows XP right now, remarkably from Microsoft's own website. Called PowerToys, they are are described as:

PowerToys add fun and functionality to the Windows experience. What are they? PowerToys are additional programs that developers work on after a product has been released.
Some of the interesting PowerToys include:

ClearType tuner
ClearType is a type of font that has come to promince through its use in IE7 releases. It is a way of rendering fonts developed by Microsoft after years of research into how to make fonts easier to read - and thats just what ClearType is - a way of displaying fonts that is easier on the eye. A comparison between ClearType and non-ClearType is on the IE7 developer's blog.

As you can see, the outline of the font is softer. If you zoom in on ClearType, you can see that there is a very weird colour gradient around each character, making them much less stark, and I definitely think easier to read. However, many people disagree with me, and have been complaining about it's default use in IE7. Apparently, it only works properly on LCD screens (flat screens). This PowerToy allows you to use ClearType throughout Windows, and tweak its settings to what is best for your eyes. Definitely highly recommended.

Power Calculator
Does what it says on the tin. It is an enhanced version of the rudimentary calculator included in Windows, and it has added graphics capabilities and other mathematical stuff, and a slightly better GUI (graphic user interface). It's worth downloading, as its only small and adds some features which you will find useful from time to time.

Virtual desktop manager
One of the most noticable differences between the Windows desktop and KDE (I think it's KDE, but it might be GNOME), a popular desktop for Linux distributions, is that KDE allows you to have multiple desktops open, and so you could, for example, have one for web browsing, one for listening to music and yet another for the work which you really should be getting on with. You switch between these desktops by clicking the buttons on a toolbar on the taskbar.

The green button is perhaps the coolest feature, as it brings up a screen with the four desktops tiled, and then you can go to one by clicking on it (yes, I know, that's already available in Mac OS X, and I'm sure that looks a lot better, but it's new for us Windows users). Another feature is the ability to have different backgrounds for each of the respective desktops. It is worth making sure that the 'shared taskbar' option is set to off, as otherwise the windows from the other desktops appear in every desktop's taskbar. I have found this PowerToy to be quite buggy, and so I think its greatest use is to make me feel like a power user.

WebCam Timershot
Not entirely sure of any practical use for this program, apart from possibly catching burglars, but this PowerToy makes it possible to set the webcam to take a still picture regularly after a set interval. Still interesting though.

Slide Show Wizard
Again, pretty much does as the name would suggest. It allows the easy creation of webpage photo albums from a folder of photos, which could then be uploaded to a webserver for sharing with friends. This might have been a useful feature even a year ago, but with the advent of services such as Flickr, Yahoo!'s recently aquired photo-sharing service, with free storage up to a limit, the usefulness of this wizard is much reduced.

There are other PowerToys available on the Microsoft website, and they do provide some interesting and in some cases very useful functionality.

1 comment:

Peter said...

On the subject of KDE and GNOME offering virtual desktop switching, it's actually both that have the capability, but the GNOME option is a bit more subtle, it's a few buttons in the bottom right of the GNOME panel at the bottom.